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WNY Maritime/Health Sciences football charters new course under coach Ty Parker

Ty Parker’s coaching journey began 20 years ago with the Cheektowaga Thunderbirds Little Loop football organization. Friday night under the lights at Cheektowaga Central, Parker made his head coaching debut, fervently pacing the sidelines, hollering instructions and demonstrating techniques during the merged WNY Maritime/Health Sciences program’s 18-12 overtime victory over the defending Section VI Class B champions.

From starting the God’s Children Cowboys youth team in 2004 and later becoming president of the Buffalo City Youth Football League, coaching as an assistant at Riverside, Bennett and Bishop Timon-St. Jude, developing AAU basketball programs and leading Health Sciences to the state semifinals twice in his four years as varsity basketball coach, Parker has drawn from his own playing experience to influence young athletes.

“I feel like I can give both sides of it,” Parker said. “I had success in athletics. But at the same time, I made mistakes. I didn’t do everything I needed to do off the field, in the classroom, in the weight room, to be the best I could be.”

Graduating from Burgard in 1994, Parker’s college options were limited because he never took the standardized tests required to play at the Division I level. He was defensive MVP for Alfred State’s junior college team, had a scholarship offer from Pittsburgh that was rescinded following a coaching change, and would play well enough for one season at FCS school Charleston Southern to get on the radar of NFL scouts.

But after being declared academically ineligible at Charleston Southern, Parker returned home to take care of his daughter and join the workforce, without his degree and with unfulfilled football ambitions.

“I felt like I let myself down and I let my family down,” Parker said. “I was blessed to go to college. But I was just thinking about sports and wasn’t focused on school as much as I should have been. And when I couldn’t play football anymore, it kind of demoralized me for a little bit.”

After a few years coaching in little leagues while working at the Delevan-Grider Community Center among other jobs, Parker went back to school at Buffalo State, starting at safety for the Bengals at age 27.

“I’ve been through a lot of trials, tribulations and adversity,” Parker told The News in 2002. “A lot of kids in this day and age grow up who have the same adversities, who come to the same brick walls. I feel as though I can show them how to get over it because I’ve been through that same path.”

A number of players Parker has coached on youth and AAU teams have gone on to college, but Parker believes he can make a greater impact coaching at the high school level and working as an assistant athletic director at Health Sciences Charter.

Having been the defensive coordinator on Charlie Comerford’s staff at Timon while coaching basketball at Health Sciences, Parker was a natural choice to join Comerford’s new endeavor. Starting up an athletics program at WNY Maritime last year, Comerford sought to form a football team with players from the two inner-city charter schools.

Fielding the city’s first charter school football team has been a challenge. The Falcons lack the amenities of even the most underfunded programs. They don’t have a home field and practice on an unlined patch of grass without goalposts at Masten Park, using cones for hash marks, yardage and boundary lines. After purchasing helmets and other basic equipment, there was no money left to rent a field for games or practice, Parker said.

With 14 underclassmen and just five seniors in the lineup, Falcons went 2-6 in their inaugural season, playing a formidable schedule that included some of the area’s best in Canisius, South Park, Starpoint and West Seneca East.

“We took some lumps,” Comerford said. “We knew we had a young team. We decided to have a varsity program when we probably could have done JV. But we knew that this year and next year, we could become one of the better teams in Western New York.”

Comerford handed off the head coach title to Parker over the summer while staying on as Maritime’s AD and a football assistant.

“Ty’s a great coach,” Comerford said. “He’s coached a million basketball games as a head coach, a million football games. It’s a different level but he knows how to reach these kids.”

Des Randall, the Villa Maria men’s basketball coach and WNY Maritime faculty member, coached against Parker while leading the Timon and West Seneca West programs, and alongside Parker with the Corey Graham Elite AAU program.

“Being around Ty for the last 10-plus years, I know he has a love and a passion for coaching,” said Randall, who played football at Maine. “He’s a leader. He’s a motivator. He’s been waiting for this opportunity. I know he’ll have them prepared to play. And being a part of Maritime, I’m happy for the school.”

Randall also praised Comerford, his AD at Timon, for bringing Parker into the program.

“Charlie has to be one of the best athletic directors in the state,” Randall said. “He’s made some big splashes with coaching hires and they’ve all seemed to be successful.”

Comerford, the head football coach at Timon for six seasons before moving to Maritime, will provide input on coaching decisions, “but I’m not going to step on any toes,” he said.

“It’s not much different than last year,” Parker said. “We all coach collectively.”

The Falcons’ offensive coordinator, Montrice Webster, is Parker's cousin. He started coaching the Cheektowaga Thunderbirds the same year as Parker. Arsell Bell, who coaches the linebackers and both lineman groups, was the center on the Burgard teams Parker quarterbacked and an assistant coach for the GC Cowboys and Bennett JV.

“It’s a great feeling to be a head coach and to have the same guys I started coaching with still with me for over 20-plus years,” Parker said. “It’s really a true blessing. It’s hard to build a tight staff that you can trust that can teach the kids the game the right way and get them ready for the next level. We have a really great chemistry and they know exactly what my expectations are due to the fact that we’ve been coaching together for over two decades.”

The young Falcons, with three seniors on this year’s roster, spread their wings in the season-opening win. The swarming defense forced five turnovers, including a fumble that junior linebacker Maurice Vaughn recovered in the end zone for a touchdown. Junior linebacker Mekhi Bridgers had 14 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. Senior lineman Teryon Vernon made eight tackles and two sacks.

Offensively, sophomore running back Yazier Riddick scored an early touchdown before leaving the game with a bruised forearm. Swift sophomore wideout Addison Copeland, a Division I prospect, caught four passes for 55 yards despite persistent double coverage. Another sophomore receiver, Demetrious Potts, sprinted for the walk-off touchdown on a 13-yard jet sweep on the Falcons’ first overtime possession.

“I’m happy to get this win,” Potts said. “Last year, we were just fighting. I think we are going to go very far this year.”

Moving down to Class B this season, the Falcons feel the higher class of competition they faced in the program’s first year will pay dividends.

“That forced these guys to grow up,” Parker said. “The first year was all rough spots. We had a lot of guys that just came from youth little league football to the varsity team. Then we had guys that were juniors that hadn’t played football in three years. It was more of the guys getting themselves back in football shape, getting football savvy. But once we got our feet under us, it took a year, now we got it down and it showed.”

How far can the combined charter schools go, this year and beyond?

“New Era Field,” Bridgers said. “I think we can win it all. With our talent, one more year of maturity as a team, we’ve all been playing together since we were kids. We’re all like brothers and we love each other. And in the future, this team can be a championship team for years in a row.”

Bridgers, like many of the Falcons, played youth football for Parker and is excited to have him guiding the high school program.

“Coach Ty is like my family,” Bridgers said. “He’s known me since I was a baby. I know he has a lot of good intentions for all the athletes. He doesn’t just want you to excel in sports, but academics too. He cares about everything, school, sports, and our future.”

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